ARMCHAIR CONCERN

The unbearable hypocrisy of the Indian elite

Quartz india
Quartz india

When I say “elite”, I am not talking about the high net worth individuals, as one would imagine. A person, who has had the luxury of a private education, is employed in a white collar job and lives in an urban area, is an Indian elite. Statistically, such a person would figure in the top 2% of our country. Let’s call him “Leo” for easier reference, hereafter.

Leo proudly flaunts his expensive smartphone, which, by the way, he uses only to make phone calls and check WhatsApp or Facebook. He affords a Rs500 monthly 3G plan to keep his phone smart. Yet when the railway budget announces a passenger fee hike of Rs1.20, he is up in arms with his armchair brigade, passionately debating the ills of inflation.

Interestingly, Leo obtains this information from a shared WhatsApp message, requesting to be shared further to spread the anti-government word. Funny as it is, Leo last travelled by train 10 years back. But Leo feels obliged to rebel against such a fascist fee hike.  Leo pays taxes. He often confuses it with charity. 

Leo is educated, and thus by self-implication, the voice of the voiceless. He is entitled to have an opinion on everything—credibility or the inadequacy of his information notwithstanding. Leo calls this freedom of speech. He read it on Facebook that the Indian constitution provides for such a liberty. Leo has never read the Indian constitution though. He doesn’t need to because Facebook is his courtroom, where he is the judge, jury and executioner. This is the hypocrisy of the Indian elite.

Leo owns a car and dreams of buying another one—a bigger one. Leo hates using public transport, and carpooling is beneath his paygrade. His city has the twin problem of traffic and pollution. But it is not Leo’s fault. Ironically, Leo blames it on the poor public transport system, which he loathes in the first place. Leo says so because he wants others to use public transport, while he can comfortably commute in his air-conditioned car. This is the hypocrisy of the Indian elite.

Leo pays taxes. He often confuses it with charity. In return, Leo wants every public service at his beck and call, without his participation of course. He wants the road in front of his house to be cleaned every day, by “those” people, who he argues, are paid by his generous charity. He demands the removal of caste divide, yet considers “manual scavenging” suitable for only “those” people. He fervidly bats for equality, while keeping separate utensils for his servant.

Leo wants an instant gas connection. He also wants the subsidy with it, which he is not supposed to take. But Leo corrects his moral compass by telling himself that if not for him, then another Leo will take the subsidy. So why not him? Fair point, albeit in a distorted way. Leo then comments on how successive governments have failed to effectively reduce poverty. This is the hypocrisy of the Indian elite.

 Leo has now become an NRI elite. That’s a whole level above Indian elite. Leo obtains a subsidised college education. He then moves abroad for higher education. Leo finds a job, and by the sheer determination of his intent, manages to settle there. Leo works for NASA, and criticises ISRO. Leo teaches at Harvard, and talks about the lack of an Indian Harvard. Leo has now become an NRI elite. That’s a whole level above Indian elite.

Leo now opines in fluent English, about the substandard level of the Indian education system. He specifically points out how no Indian university is in the top 100 while his overpriced graduate school is.

Leo talks at length about the flawless “system” of his adopted country, but conveniently chooses to ignore the secondary treatment he is meted out by that very system. Leo picks up an accent, to imply that he has lost connect with India. It is his mechanism of upward racial mobility.

Leo visits India. He is now perturbed by the hot and humid weather, the poverty, filth and putrid smell, that he all of a sudden has become aware of. Or maybe because other white men say so, and hence, Leo should act the part properly, that is of a condescending NRI elite.

Back home in India, Leo wants to give back to the society. Leo buys a DSLR to take pictures of stunted, naked street kids. He calls himself a social activist. More the naked kids, more the activism. Leo gets to know about the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.” All of a sudden, he swells with extreme patriotism. Leo immediately picks up a broom, clicks a selfie, and posts it on Facebook to show support. Job done. Phew.

Meanwhile, he also takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Later that day, Leo’s girlfriend invites him to take part in a candle march, without giving a reason. Leo also puts his WhatsApp status as “RIP Hanumanthappa.” Leo is a true patriot.

Leo’s latest concern is corruption. Everybody is talking about it. One of his batchmates even became a chief minister just by talking about it. One time, Leo gets pulled over for over-speeding. Leo asks the traffic police, if they know who his father is? They don’t, but accept a “token” money from Leo to let him go. Leo zooms past, and immediately calls his friend while driving (which itself is an offense).

First, he brags about how he bribed a “thulla” (a low level police official) and then goes on to lament, about how the country is going to the dogs, because of corruption. This is the hypocrisy of the Indian elite.

Don’t be a Leo.

This post first appeared on Medium.com. Follow Nishant on Medium. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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